At first glance, the pack of roller-skating women huddled together on the rink appears calm.
The women have names on the backs of their tank tops like Smash Monki, Ctrl-Alt-Defeat, Nellie Shovett, Deja Bruise, Paul Maul and Amber Waves of Slain.
Then the whistle blows.
Multiple women begin shouting instructions, and what was a quiet, slow-skating mass of humanity quickly evolves into bodies colliding, shoving and jostling for position. Some fall to the ground while others are ejected from the pack.
Welcome to a Saturday with the Middle Georgia Derby Demons.
The new team had its second bout Feb. 2 at the Bibb Skate Arena against the Muscogee Roller Girls of Columbus.
The Derby Demons are made up of a group of dedicated women from all walks of life. They’re graphic artists, engineers, designers, bartenders, medical workers and full-time students. What they all have in common is the love of derby. And toughness.
They performed like a well-oiled machine against the Muscogee Roller Girls, but a lot of hard work went into getting them to that point.
They’ve come a long way
The Middle Georgia Derby Demons are new members of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, the governing body of more than 170 teams around the world. Their entry into the association didn’t come easy. All the players had to be tested to demonstrate their knowledge of the rules, skating ability and safety.
After taking skills assessments months ago to test the players’ ability and skating strength, the team was at a crossroads.
“That was the point when we decided we had two paths we could go,” said Ester Lee-Altman, aka Kimchi Kollider -- players skate under derby names. “We could make this a rec league, where it’s just about fun and not truly competing, or we could go full-out roller derby league.
The Derby Demons’ confidence grew after having their first scrimmage against the Savannah Derby Devils in October. “
That’s when we were like, ‘Yeah, we can do this,’ ” Lee-Altman said, an engineer at Robins Air Force Base.
Their biggest challenge was fielding a team.
It was spring 2011 when a group of about 15 women met at a park in Ingleside Village with the idea of starting a roller derby team. The women put the word out on Facebook to gage interest.
“I saw it the day of the meeting (on Facebook) and decided to go,” said Erin Ferrell, who makes her living as a graphic designer at Backdrops Fantastic in Macon, but on the rink she becomes Nellie Shovett. “I decided to go because I grew up skating and thought it would be interesting.”
The women started getting together every Saturday at the Olympia Skate Center on Mercer University Drive to learn about the game. Some of them had to learn how to skate first.
Women would come out for a few practices, and then they’d disappear.
“A lot of people start off,” Ferrell said. “It’s not always easy for them to stick around ... what you find out is it’s a lot more athletic than you thought it was ... it takes good endurance and balance is really needed.”
Injuries occasionally happen. The players have had some broken ankles, and one player broke her tailbone.
“I bruise really easy, so I’m black and blue after,” said Ferrell.
She and teammate Amber Whitley, Ctrl-Alt-Defeat, are the only two original members from that first meeting.
“Usually they’ll show up once or twice, and they don’t come back,” said Angela Matteo, whose derby persona is Smash Monki. “They don’t realize when they get there how hard it is. They think it’s like a hobby, but it’s like a way of life for us.”
Matteo became interested in derby when a friend in Montana posted pictures of her team in Bozeman.
“I saw her pictures of her physically playing, and I thought, ‘I’m so competitive, I want to get into that,’ ” she said.
Matteo’s friend did some searching for her online and learned about the Middle Georgia Derby Demons.
“I showed up to one of their practices, and within five minutes I went home, got online, bought my skates and came to practice next time,” Matteo said. “It’s fun. It’s all about having fun, and you have to be willing to learn, willing to take instruction.”
Playing the game
Each 30 minute half in derby is broken into shifts called jams. A group of eight players in the front is called a pack made up of players called blockers. Each team has one player, called a jammer, behind the pack.
When the whistle blows, it’s on.
The jammers try to skate through the pack and out of the other side. They’re met with hips and shoulders from the opposing team’s blocker. Jammers are ready to score once they make it through the pack. They earn points when they pass a member of the opposing team.
It’s common to see players earn some time in the penalty box for illegal blocks, such as throwing elbows, back blocking and passing out of bounds.
Lee-Altman had her game face on before the Demons’ bout Feb. 2. She listened to one of her favorite groups, The Racketours, on the car ride to the rink.
“That kind of got me pumped ... I’m ready to go,” she said an hour before bout time. “I am Kimchi Kollider. I am a bad-ass derby player, and I’m going to rock it.”
The battle was close and got really heated toward the end.
Whitely was sent to the penalty box for cutting. The jammer was knocked out of bounds. Players are penalized if they better their position when they re-enter.
“I got hit in the stomach,” Whitely said breathing heavily from the battle while sitting in the penalty box. “That’s not legal, but it happens.”
An official holding a stopwatch let Whitely know she could re-enter the game, and she dashed back into action.
The home crowd roared when Whitely jammed her way through the pack and started scoring. The cheers turned to boos less than a minute later when a referee sent her back to the penalty box for a back block. With two minutes left, Whitley, a bartender at Element Night Club in downtown Macon, entered the game again only to be called for another back block while the Demons were down 142-140.
She re-entered the game as the final seconds ticked off the clock and the arena -- about 300 in attendance -- erupted in cheers as she scored the final point leading the Demons to a 143 to 142 victory.
Rehydrating after battle
After leaving it all in the rink, the tired roller players gathered what energy they had left and headed to the Hummingbird in downtown Macon. The bar sponsors the team. There, they smoke a few cigarettes, compare bumps and bruises over a beer or two -- or three -- and swap war stories.
Moments after entering the bar, they grab a plastic cup for their personal keg and are reminded that the game is still on, albeit a different game.
“Listen up!” Whitley shouts. “There are two (golf) balls in play ... If a ball is dropped in your beer, you have to chug it or pour it over your head. I suggest you carry your beer like this (she cautions holding her plastic cup with her hand over the top).”